Martin Luther King Day and the N-Word in Huckleberry Finn

January 12, 2010

As we approach Martin Luther King Day (“a day on, not a day off” here at Earlham) matters of race are more in focus for me.  That’s why we celebrate the day, I’m pretty sure, to have a day in our yearly cycle where we are especially attentive to the still-live tragedies and injustices of race in America, and attentive, too, to what we can and should do better.

I’ve been trying not to be distracted by the contretemps about the soon-to-be-published version of Huckleberry Finn that will eliminate the hundreds of uses of the offensive word “Nigger” in the text.  I wouldn’t sanitize the text, I wouldn’t take out the word, but I’m resisting the calls to see this revision as a portent of something bigger in our culture.  It’s just (my opinion) some dumb thing one scholar and one publisher are going to do. I don’t have to pay it any mind; I’m not going to buy it.

Then this morning this issue is redeemed for me, made worthy of attention, by a blog post from Michael Chabon who is subbing this week for Ta-Nehisi Coates, a blogger and Senior Editor at The Atlantic.  Entitled “The Unspeakable, in Its Jammies,” Chabon writes about the difficulties of reading the book aloud to his children.  Worth reading.

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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